Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off Topic and Off Blog - Interview

John Hayes of “Robert Frost’s Banjo” recently ran interview with me on my novel “Meet Me in Nuthatch.” Have a look here. And for those in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maude Adams' Boston Box-Office Bonanza

(This portait photo of Maude Adams, taken when she was about 20 in the early 1890s, is in the public domain.)

In 1901, it was reported of actress Maude Adams, “Miss Adams’ receipts last week in Boston were the largest in the history of Boston theaters or anywhere -- $23,000.” Not bad when you think most ticket prices were probably around fifty cents.

This quote chronicled in “Curtain Time - The story of the American Theater” by Lloyd Morris (Random House, NY, 1953), though a cold, if impressive fact, barely scratches the surface to describing the popularity of Maude Adams.

Born in the 1870s, she toured in stock since her early childhood, and by the turn of the century was at the top of her game. The works of J. M. Barrie were paramount in her repertoire (his “What Every Woman Knows” was written for her), and she is noted as the first American actress to play Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in 1905. It was the highpoint of her career, an enormous success in an era where theatre was the primary entertainment and had no competing media.

Author Lloyd Morris notes, “Miss Adams was…winsome rather than pretty, slight, frail and girlish. Her lilting speech and muted laughter, the delicacy of her treat, the graceful swiftness of her movement, gave her a quality that soon was described as ‘otherworldly’. Though intensely feminine, she made a curious impression of elusiveness, as if she had an elfin strain.”

Such qualities gave magic to anyone playing Peter Pan.

“Millions of Americans saw Miss Adams on stage, rejoiced in her performances, cherished a sense of genuinely personal relationship to her. Yet, paradoxically, only a handful of people really knew her. Frohman (producer Charles Frohman) believed that the illusions of the theater would be shattered if the public saw his stars off-stage, or knew too much about them.”

Intriguing, and somehow sad. So much devotion, so many box office receipts, to be really known by only a handful of people.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Audience That Wouldn't Leave

Sometime in the mid-1800s, when theatre was hundreds of years old and yet still, seemingly to our modern sophistication, still in its infancy, “Oliver Twist” was presented in Lowell, Massachusetts. The play, based upon the Charles Dickens novel, must have been a hit, because the audience did not want to leave.

According to the “Before the Footlights and Behind the Scenes”, a book on American theatre stories by Olive Logan, (Parmelee & Co., Philadephia, 1870), after the play ended, the audience stayed in their seats, looking, perhaps expectantly, at the drawn curtain.

It is a painful moment in theatre when the audience walks out before the play is over, but perhaps merely awkward when they choose not to leave at all.

At last, the stage manager came out in front of the curtain and handled the problem, as stage managers are supposed to do, with absolute authority, and if possible, tact. He announced,

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to inform you that the play has terminated. As all the principal characters are dead, it cannot, of course, go on.”

That seemed reasonable to the audience, who finally went away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Claudia" at the Court Square Theater

“Claudia” came to the Court Square Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts for three performances in March 1943. The play had just closed on Broadway the month before after a successful run of almost two years. The lead in that Broadway production, Dorothy McGuire, was whisked off to Hollywood to make her first motion picture. Phyllis Thaxter played the irrepressible young bride, Claudia in this road production.

This show also featured Donald Cook and Frances Starr reprising their Broadway roles. Both stage veterans with long careers, Mr. Cook also appeared in films, including the 1936 “Show Boat.”

Rose Franken, author of the play, directed both the Broadway and road shows.